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Taken From: 

Van Schendel, Willem(Editor). Identity Politics in Central Asia and the Muslim World: 
Nationalism, Ethnicity and Labour in the Twentieth Century. 
London, , GBR: I. B. Tauris & Company, Limited, 200 L p 80. 

Recasting Oneself, Rejecting the Other: Pan-Turkism and 
Iranian Nationalism 
By: Dr. Touraj Atabaki 

Twentieth-century historiography on nation- state correlation and 
nationahsm has to a large extent been shaped by a eurocentric ethnolinguistic 
discourse, where 'ethnicity and language' become the 
central, increasingly the decisive or even the only, criteria of potential 
nationhood, (1) or as Karl Renner asserts: 

once a certain degree of European development has been reached, 

the linguistic and cultural communities of people, having silently 

matured throughout the centuries, emerge from the world of 

passive existence as people (Passiver Volkheit). They become conscious 

of themselves as a force with historical destiny. They 

demand control over the state, as the highest available instrument 

of power, and strive for their political self-determination. The 

birthday of the political idea of the nation and the birth-year of 

this new consciousness, is 1789, the year of the French Revolution.(2) 

However, what this perception of the nation-state largely neglects is 
the fact that the construction of a bounded territorial entity (or what 
is generally referred to as nation- state-building) has often entailed 
components other than ethnic or linguistic bonds. Collective imagination, 
political allegiances, reconstructing and reinterpreting history, 
the invention of necessary historical traditions to justify and give 
coherence to the emerging modern state: all these are often major 
factors in bringing groups of people together and strengthening or 
even forming their common sense of identity and political solidarity. 

In some cases the mere application of ancient, historically resonant 

names and traditions is enough to evoke a consensus of political legitimacy. 

Consequently, the social connotations of certain key socio-political 

phrases, as well as geographic terms, become an important 

element in reshaping the geographic boundaries of emerging sovereign 


As far as Iran is concerned, it is widely argued that Iranian nationalism 

was bom as a state ideology in the Reza Shah era, based on 

philological nationalism and as a result of his innovative success in 

creating a modern nation-state in Iran. However, what is often 

neglected is that Iranian nationalism has its roots in the political 

upheavals of the nineteenth century and the disintegration immediately 

following the Constitutional revolution of 1905- 9. It was during 

this period that Iranism gradually took shape as a defensive discourse 

for constructing a bounded territorial entity - the 'pure Iran' standing 

against all others. Consequently, over time there emerged among the 

country's intelligentsia a political xenophobia which contributed to the 

formation of Iranian defensive nationalism. It is noteworthy that, 

contrary to what one might expect, many of the leading agents of the 

construction of an Iranian bounded territorial entity came from nonPersian-speaking 

ethnic minorities, and the foremost were the Azerbaijanis, 

rather than the nation's titular ethnic group, the Persians. 

The intention of this essay is to throw further light on the complex 

origins of Iranian nationalism. While examining the various loyalties 

of the Iranian non-Persian intelligentsia, I shall sketch the measures 

adopted by such groups when defending their real or imagined identities 

against the early-twentieth-century irredentist ideology of neighbouring 


The Outbreak of World War I 

For many Iranians the thirteen months of 'lesser despotism' of June 
1908- July 1909 which followed Muhammad 'Ali Shah's coup was the 
most crucial period of their country's constitutional history: the entire 
country, except for Azerbaijan, was subjugated to the new regime. By 
sending in the army and imposing economic restrictions, the central 
government strove to bring the Azerbaijanis, too, to their knees. 
However, while famine spread across the province, the Azerbaijani 
constitutionalists set up barricades in Tabriz and prepared to offer 

armed resistance. When the government in Tehran was eventually 
overthrown, the constitutionalists found themselves in a nearly unique 
position with the attention of the entire nation fixed on them. Gradually 
the belief arose among Iranians that, although the Constitutional 
Revolution had been born in Tehran, it had been baptized in Tabriz 
and the Constitution had no chance of surviving without Azerbaijan. 
Moreover, Azerbaijan was seen as the most important centre where 
any future progressive political changes would originate. This 
appraisal of the cardinal role played by the Azerbaijanis in restoring 

constitutionalism in Iran left Azerbaijani constitutionalists with a 

strong consciousness of being the protectors of the country's territorial 

integrity, a consciousness which still persists. 

When World War I erupted, political chaos and confusion swept 

across Iran. Successive governments proved incapable of solving the 

country's escalating problems and implementing fundamental reforms. 

Indeed, not only did the outbreak of the war fail to stop political 

disintegration in Iran, but increased foreign pressure caused the longstanding 

rift in Iranian politics to widen. As early as October 1910, 

Britain had dehvered an ultimatum to Iran concerning the security of 

southern Iran. In so doing, Britain set an example for the Russians to 

follow. Russian troops had already occupied the northern provinces. 

In November 191 1 the tsarist government presented its own ultimatum 

to Iran, which amounted to nothing less than an attempt to 

reduce the north of the country to the status of a semi-dependent 

colony. (3) However, while the Iranian parliament, which enjoyed the 

support of the crowds in the street, resisted the Russian ultimatum, 

the fragile Iranian government decided to accept it and dissolve 

the parliament. This seemed the only effective measure available 

to the deputies in the face of the crisis that had arisen. (4) Meanwhile, 

the occupation of the north and south of Iran by Russian and British 

troops was to provoke the Ottoman forces to invade western and 

north-western Iran early in the war. If we add to this list of disasters 

the activities of German agents, especially among the southern tribes, 

we begin to get an idea of how impotent the Iranian government was 

during this period. 

The Iranian government's reaction to the outbreak of the war was 

to declare Iran's strict neutrality in the farman of 1 November 1914. 

On the other hand, what sense was there in the government's announcing 

its neutrality when a sizeable part of Iran's territory was occupied 

by the Entente forces? When Mostowfi ol-Mamalik, the prime minister, approached the 

Russian authorities and asked that they withdraw 

their troops from Azerbaijan because their presence gave the 

Turks a pretext for invading Iran, 'the Russian minister appreciated 

the Iranian viewpoint but inquired what guarantees could be given 

that after the withdrawal of Russian forces, the Turks would not 

bring in theirs.' (5) Consequently, Azerbaijan became one of the major 

battlefields of the war. As part of their military strategy, the Russians, 

British and Ottomans all pursued policies which aimed at stirring up 

or aggravating the existing animosities between the different ethnic 

and religious groupings in the province. Promises were made with 

regard to setting up a sovereign state for Kurds, Assyrians, Armenians 

and Azerbaijani Muslims. Such demagogic manipulations led to the 

most bloody and barbaric confrontations among these ethnic and religious 


Soon after the outbreak of World War I, the Ottoman Empire, with 

the encouragement of Enver Pasha, the Ottoman minister of war, sided 
with Germany. Enver Pasha, judged that doing so gave the Ottomans a 
good chance of surviving and perhaps even of making some gains from 
Russia. He also declared a jihad, inciting Muslims to rise up against 
British and Russian rule in Mdia, Iran, the Caucasus and Central Asia. 
To him, the Russians were not only kafir (infidels), but also invaders 
who had occupied areas south of the Caucasus which were considered 
part of the Islamic- Turkic homeland. Enver Pasha played a leading 
part in negotiating a secret German- Ottoman treaty, signed on 2 
August 1914; in October the Ottoman fleet entered the Black Sea, 
bombarded Odessa and the Crimean ports, and sank Russian ships. In 
addition, Ottoman forces were deployed along the Caucasus frontier 
with Russia, where severe fighting began in the harsh mountain terrain. 
The ultimate strategic objective for the Ottomans was to capture 
the Baku oilfields and northern Iran in order to penetrate Central Asia 
and Afghanistan, not only as a threat to British India, but also to 
extend the Ottoman Empire to what were referred as its natural 

We should not forget that the reason for our entrance into the 
world war is not only to save our country from the danger threatening 
it. No, we pursue an even more immediate goal - the realization 
of our ideal, which demands that, having shattered our 
Muscovite enemy, we lead our empire to its natural boundaries, 
which would encompass and unite all our related people. (6) 

In December 1914, a Russian advance towards Erzurum was countered 
by the Ottomans, but, in battles at Sarikamish^ in January 1915 
the Ottomans, ill-clad and ill-supplied for the Caucasian winter, 
suffered their greatest defeat of the war. 

In the south, other Ottoman forces, which had invaded the city of 
Maraghan in late November 1914, moved to Tabriz on 14 January. 
Since the Russian army was still stationed in Tabriz, confrontation 
between two armies seemed inevitable. Although the Russian troops 
avoided a mihtary confrontation and evacuated Tabriz, the Ottomans 
were unable to maintain their hold on the city and were expelled by a 
Russian counter- invasion in March 1915.(7) The defeat at Sarikamish^ 
was indeed a turning-point in the Ottomans' policy of expanding east. 
Throughout the remaining years of the war they adopted a low profile 
in the region. It was only at the end of the World War I, and 
following the Russian Revolution, that the Ottomans were able to 
return to Iran. 

Pan-Turkism and Iran's Response to It 

Although it took some years for the Ottomans to realize their dream of 
installing themselves in the region north as well as south of the Araxes 
river, the pan-Turkist uproar reached Baku as early as 1908, when the 
Young Turk Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) launched their 
coup, which brought an end to the despotic era of Abdulhamid. 
When Abdulhamid abdicated, pan-Islamism, which he had supported, 
was flavoured throughout the heartland of the empire by Turkic 
national sentiment. Like the people who initiated pan-Turkism, the 
pioneers of propagating pan-Turkism among the Turkic peoples came 
from the Russian Empire, having been influenced by the model of 
nineteenth-century pan-Slavism. 

As early as 1904, Yusuf Akc^ uroglu (later known as Yusuf Akchura), 
a Tatar from the Russian Empire, published a pamphlet called Uch^ 
Tarz-i Siyaset (Three Kinds of Policies), which soon came to be 
known as the manifesto of the pan-Turkists. Li this famous declaration, 
which was originally printed in Cairo by Turks in exile, Akc^ ura 
discussed the inherent historical obstacles blocking the advance of 
pan-Ottomanism and pan-Islamism and advocated Ittihad-i Etrak 
(Unity of Turks), or as he later called it, Turkculuk (Turkism), (8) as the 
sole concept capable of sustaining the Turk milleti (Turkish nation). 

He admitted that he 'does not know if the idea still had adherents 
outside the Ottoman Empire', especially in Qafqaziya ve shimali Iran 
(the Caucasus and northern Iran), but he hoped that in the near 
future his views on Turkish identity would attract the support of 
many Turks wherever they lived. (9) 

Ittihad-i Etrak was soon adopted as a policy by political parties and 
'cultural organizations' in the Ottoman Empire. In 1908, Turk Dernegi 
(the Turkish Society) was founded in Istanbul to study the 'past and 
present activities and circumstances of all the people called Turk.(lO) In 
its declaration issued on 25 December 1908, the society pledged to 
'encourage the use of Ottoman-Turkish among foreign peoples. At 
first, Turks in the Balkan states, Austria, Russia, Iran, Africa, Central 
Asia and China will be familiarized with Ottoman-Turkish'. Furthermore, 
'languages in Azerbaijan, Kashgar, Bukhara, Khiva, etc., will be 
reformed to be like Ottoman-Turkish for the benefit of Ottoman 
trade' .(11) Turk Dernegi was followed by another society called Turk 
Ocagi (Turkish Hearth). In its manifesto, written in 1912, this society 
proclaimed as its chief aim 'to advance the national education and 
raise the scientific, social and economic level of the Turks who are the 
foremost of the peoples of Islam, and to strive for the betterment of 
the Turkish race and language '.(12) 

The pioneers of pan-Turkism in Caucasian Azerbaijan, however, 

were those of the Azerbaijani elite living in Istanbul who were disillusioned 

by the stagnation of the Iranian constitutional movement, the 

failure of the Russian revolution of 1905, and the crisis in the 

European social democratic movement. Some, who were sympathetic 

to the Iranian reformist movement, turned their gaze from Tabriz and 

Tehran to Istanbul. The Istanbul of the Young Turks, with its call 

for unity among the Turkic peoples, was a new haven for such elites 

from tsarist Russia. With a growing sense of their isolation, they 

turned to studying ethnic culture and history and its accompanying 

political importance. The outlook of Ali Husaynzade, Ahmad Aghayev 

and, later, Muhammad Amin Rasulzade was immediately welcomed 

by the CUP, and some of them were even given government positions 

in the new Ottoman regime. When Turk Yurdu (Turkish Homeland), 

the main journal propagating pan-Turkism in the Ottoman Empire 

was launched in Istanbul, they were among the most prominent 

contributors to it. In one of his editorials Ahmad Aghayev even 

reproached the Ottomans for calling the Iranian Azerbaijanis, 

Iranians, rather than Turks. (13) Muhammad Amin Rasulzade in a series 

of articles entitled 'Iran TurklerV (the Iranian Turks), contributed a 

descriptive analysis of the Iranian Turkic minorities and their distinctive 

national identities. (14) 

During the war, pan-Turkist activities in Baku, which was still 
under tsarist rule, were mainly confined to the publication of certain 
periodicals. While maintaining their absolute loyalty in the tsarist 
cause in the war, periodicals such as Yeni Fuyuzat (New Abundance) 
and Salale (Cascade), adopted as their chief mission the purification of 
the Azerbaijani language, Arabic and Persian vocabulary was to be 
purged, and words of pure Turkic origin were to be substituted, as 
was being done in nationahst circles in the Ottoman Empire. Whereas 
news about the activities of pan-Turkist organizations in the empire 
was often covered in editorials by 'Isa Bey Azurbeyli, the editor of 
Salale , the question of Iranian Azerbaijan remained neglected by such 
periodicals, and it seemed that in their hidden agenda the forging of 
firmer ties with the Ottomans had priority over unification with the 
Iranian Azerbaijanis. (15) 

However, the attitude toward Turkism in the Caucasus was somewhat 
altered when in 1913 an amnesty was declared in Baku on the 
occasion of the three hundredth anniversary of the Romanov dynasty. 
Pohtical activists such as the committed social democrat Rasulzade, 
who some years earlier had launched the leading newspaper Iran-e 
Now in Tehran, were then able to return to live within tsarist territory. 

On his return to Baku, Rasulzade began to publish his own 
newspaper. The first issue of Achiq Soz (Candid Speech) appeared in 
October 1915 and publication continued until March 1918. Under the 
tsars the newspaper called itself 'a Turkish political, social and literary 
paper' and adopted a standpoint close to that of the tsarist empire, 
endorsing the latter' s war policy. At the same time, it paid a certain 
amount of attention to Iran and Iranian Azerbaijan. When it had 
occasion to cover Iranian news, it voiced its sympathy for the Iranian 
Democrats. 16 After the Russian Revolution, however, it changed its 
attitude, and abruptly adopted an openly pro-Ottoman policy, calling 
for turklame ', islamlame ' va mu ' asirllame ' (Turkicization, Islamicization 
and modernization). 

On 18 October 1917, a branch of Turk Ocagi was founded in Baku. 
Among the aspirations of the new society, which claimed that its 
activities were confined exclusively to the cultural domain, was the 
desire to 'acquaint the younger generation with their historical Turkic 
heritage and to consolidate their Turkic consciousness through setting 
up schools, organizing conferences and publishing books '.(17) Achiq Soz 
not only welcomed the new society but reported extensively on its 
activities, covered its frequent gatherings in Baku, and published 
lectures delivered at its conferences. Most of these lengthy articles 
were on different aspects of the history and culture of the Muslim 
peoples of the southern Caucasus. It seems that at this stage no one in 
Baku was interested in applying the term 'Azerbaijan' to the territory 
south of the Caucasus. 'Tu"rkmilletV and 'Qafqaziya mu'salman XalqV 
(the Muslim people of the Caucasus) were often employed to designate 
the inhabitants of the region. The first Constituent Assembly, 
which was established in Baku on 29 April 1917, was even called the 
General Assembly of the Caucasian Muslims. 

One result of the political upheavals in Moscow, which eventually 
ended with the Bolshevik takeover in October 1917, was the creation 
of a power vacuum in the Caucasus. A month later, the Transcaucasian 
Commissariat was established in Tblisi, and it proclaimed 'the 
right of Caucasian nations to self-determination' . By then it was 
obvious that the Armenian Dashnakists and Georgian Mensheviks 
were poised to establish their power over a large part of the region. 
The Baku Musavatists, who enjoyed an absolute majority in the Baku 
Constituent Assembly, realized that the time had come for swift political 
action. With the old tsarist empire gone, the Musavatists were 
counting on the Ottomans, who were now viewed as the uncontested 
dominant power in the region. The goal of the Musavatists in their 
contest with the Armenians and the Georgians was to win control 
over as much territory as possible. They claimed 'besides the Baku 
and Ganja province, the Muslim population of Daghestan, the 

northern Caucasus, the Georgian-speaking Muslim Inghilios ofZakataly, 

the Turkish inhabitants of the province ofErivan and Kars, and 

even the Georgian-speaking Muslim Ajars of the southern shore of 

the Black Sea '.(18) Furthermore, since the majority of Azerbaijani speaking 

people lived in a large region within northern Iran, their ultimate 

hope was to persuade the Azerbaijani leaders in Iran to support 

their proposed project for unity. Consequently, in October 1917 an 

emissary arrived in Tabriz, approached the local politicians and advocated 

that they separate from Iran and join with Baku in a great 

federation. However, their proposal was rejected by the Azerbaijani 

Democrats. (19) 

Following this failure, in an editorial published in Achiq Soz, in 
January 1918 the Musavatists for the first time tackled the question of 
Iranian Azerbaijan. In a rather haughty style, the author defined the 
historical boundaries of Azerbaijan as stretching to the Caucasian 
mountains in the north and to Kirmanshah in the south, with Tbilisi 
forming the western frontier and the Caspian Sea the eastern. The 
Russian expansionists and the Iranian ruling class were blamed for 
having adopted policies that resulted in the dismemberment of the 
nation of Azerbaijan. Furthermore, according to the author, it was the 
'natural right of the south Caucasian Muslims to call their territory 
Azerbaijan' and to hope that 'one day their brothers in the south 
could join them\(20) 

Interestingly enough, the first reaction to this irredentist propaganda 
came from a group of Iranian Democrats residing in Baku. 
Since the beginning of the century, the flourishing economy of the 
Caucasus had attracted many Iranians, most of whom were Azerbaijanis 
or Azerbaijani-speakers from the north of Iran. But although 
they spoke the same language, they did not readily assimilate. 
Throughout the Caucasus region they were known as 'hamshahrV 
(fellow countrymen) and they maintained a sense of separate identity 
which marked them out as different from the local population. (21) 

Of the various organizations that existed among the Iranian 
community in Baku, the local branch of the Iranian Democrat Party 
was the most eminent and active. The party's Baku Committee was 
founded in 1914 and its members were recruited from the Iranian 
community in Baku and the adjacent regions. In their perception the 
view expounded in the Achiq Soz editorial was nothing less than a 
pan-Turkist plot which menaced Iran's sovereignty and territorial 
integrity. Disturbed by such attempts to undermine Iranian unity, 
they soon inaugurated their own political campaign in the region. On 
10 February 1918, the Democrats launched the publication of a bilingual 

newspaper, Azarbayjan, Joz'-e la-yanfakk-e Iran (Azerbaijan, an 
Inseparable Part of Iran). (22) 'Azarbayjan' was printed in big letters on 
the masthead with 'Joz '-e la-yanfakk-e Iran' printed in much smaller 
letters inside the 'n' of Azarbayjan'. Later on Salamullah Javid, a political 
activist in Baku, acknowledged that 'the decision to publish the 
newspaper was taken by the Democrats at the local level and was a 
direct response to irredentist propaganda initiated by Achiq Soz '.(23) 

In addition to promoting political change and reform in Iran, the 
newspaper declared as its task 'displaying the country 's glorious past 
and its historical continuity\(24) as well as 'hindering any attempt to 
diminish the national consciousness of Iranians\(25) While glorifying 
the name of Azerbaijan and its ' key position in Iranian history', the 
publication frequently referred to 'the many centuries during which 
Azerbaijan governed all of Iran'. Similarly, it stressed that Azerbaijan 
had a shared history with the rest of Iran, and strove to foster selfconfidence 
and the feehng of belonging to territorial Iran. Pointing to 
the geographical front-line position of the province, the newspaper 
'declared it to be the duty of Azerbaijanis' to confront the hostile 
outsiders, and to safeguard the country's ' national pride ' and 'territorial 
integrity' . Though the newspaper never named these outsiders, 
or 'intruders', as they were called, it considered that 'their intention 
has always been to undermine Iran's territorial integrity and political 
sovereignty'. Moreover, by representing Azerbaijanis as the main 
champions of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution, it attempted to 
portray them as the sole guardians of Iran as a bounded territorial 

In a multi-ethnic society like Iran, where Persians form the titular 
ethnic group, a minority of Azerbaijanis living outside Iran, but 
within their linguistic territory, promoted a sense of Iranian state patriotism 
and territorial nationalism rather than their own ethno-nationalism. 
Their political loyalty and attachment to a constructed 
political rehability therefore took precedence over their other loyalties, 
in particular their ethnic loyalty. Likewise, they apparently believed in 
the nineteenth- century notion of a 'historical nation' in which the 
Staatsvolk (state -people) was associated with the state. In their view, 
the Iranians, just as the dispersed members of a Greater Russia or a 
Greater Germany did, made up a community associated with a territorial 
state. Consequently they attempted to uphold their territorial/ 
Iranian identity in the face of pan-Turkist propaganda by 'shaping a 
significant and unbroken link with a seminal past that could fill the 
gap between the nation 's origin and its actuaUty' .(26) For them, as 
Nipperdey has correctly pointed out, romantic nationalism provided 
the driving force for political action: 'cultural identity with its claims 
for what ought to be, demanded political consequences: a common 

state, the only context in which they [the people] could develop, the 
only force that could protect them and the only real possibility for 
integrating individuals into a nation '.(27) 

With a persuasive political agenda, Azarbayjan, Joz '-e la-yanfakk-e 
Iran pursued what in its first issue it had proclaimed to be its duty, 
and continued to publish even after the takeover of Baku by the 
Bolsheviks known as the Baku Commune. However, it was forced to 
close down in May 1918 when the Musavatists regained power and 
formed their national government. In their turn the Musavatists, who 
had been obliged to stop publishing Achiq Soz during the previous 
five months, in September 1918 launched their new gazette Azerbayjan. 
By adopting the same name for their publication that the 
Iranian Democrats in Baku had used four months earlier, the Musavatists 
demonstrated their firm attachment to the name they intended to 
give their future independent state. 

The Return of the Ottomans 

After World War I, the political arena in Anatolia as well as the 
Caucasus was significantly altered. The tsarist empire had been swept 
away by the winds of revolution and the Ottomans were striving to 
put together the jigsaw pieces of their empire. If during their first 
short-lived invasion the Ottomans had not had time to disseminate 
their pan-Turkist propaganda among the Iranian Azerbaijanis, as a 
result of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the fall of their old foe, 
the CUP were now able to initiate a new pan-Turkist campaign in 
northern Iran. As noted by a member of the British diplomatic 
service: Turkey are hand in glove with the Tatars of Transcaucasia 
(Baku) and these have put in claims to Azerbaijan on their own 
account. . . . Northern Persia is essential to Turkey as a link with the 
Turanians of Central Asia. (28) 

In the middle of April 1918, the Ottoman army invaded Azerbaijan 
for the second time. Yusuf Zia, (29) a local coordinator of the activities 
of the Teskilat-i Mahsusa (Special Organization) (30) in the region, was 
appointed political adviser to the Ottoman contingent in Iran. Soon, 
the Teskilat-i Mahsusa introduced a small pan-Turkist party in 
Tabriz(31), together with the publication of an Azerbaijani-language 
newspaper cailed Azarabadegan, which was the Ottomans' main 
instrument for propagating pan-Turkism throughout the province. 
The editorship of the newspaper was offered to Taqi Rafcat, a local 
Azerbaijani who later became known for his vanguard role in effecting 
innovations in Persian hterature. 

Contrary to their expectations, however, the Ottomans did not 

achieve impressive success in Azerbaijan. Although the province 
remained under quasi-occupation by Ottoman troops for months, 
attempting to win endorsement for pan-Turkism ended in failure. 

The Ottomans had never enjoyed the support of local political parties, 
ever since their arrival in Tabriz, and their relations with the local 
Democrats had been particularly strained. With the passage of time 
relations with the Democrats deteriorated to the point, where the 
Ottomans went as far as to arrest the Democrats' popular radical 
leader, Muhammad Khiyabani, together with his two comrades 
Nowbari and Badamchi, and sent them to Kars in exile. (32) Khiyabani 
being accused of ' collaborating with the Armenians against the forces 
ofIslam\{33) the immediate result of their intervention was to whip up 
serious anti-Ottoman sentiment among the Democrats, who were 
preparing to take control of the province. 

The summer of 1918 appeared to be a honeymoon period for the 
Ottomans after stationing their troops on Iranian soil. Occupying the 
area north of the Araxes was the next logical step on their agenda. 
With the seizure of Baku in September 1918, it seemed that their 
Turanian dream was gradually being realized: the region both north 
and south of the Araxes was now under their control. However, with 
the end of the war approaching, and an escalating political problem at 
home, not to mention the food crisis, the CUP leadership was obliged 
to give priority to the centre of its envisaged empire rather than to the 
periphery. A direct consequence of the large-scale export of cattle and 
grain from the newly occupied territories to the Ottoman interior was 
a mounting resentment among the local population. On 23 September 
1918, an Ottoman- German protocol was signed, confirming the territorial 
integrity of Iran, but the Ottomans suffered a setback on their 
western front when Bulgaria was forced to surrender on 30 September. 
It was then obvious that pursuing the war any further was impossible 
for the Ottomans. On 9 October, the CUP government fell and the 
new government of Izzet Pasha signed an armistice with the AUies. 
Returning to Tabriz from exile on 24 June 1920, Khiyabani 
announced the formation of a local government. The announcement 
took place with pomp and ceremony in the 'Ali Qapi\ the central 
government's provincial headquarters. In a country where the political 
culture was dominated by xenophobia, one of the key issues for 
Khiyabani and his fellow Democrats was how to dissociate themselves 
as completely as possible from the foreign powers. Their relations 
with the Ottomans, in view of the latter' s actions against Khiyabani, 
remained cold and distant. But what concerned them even more 
urgently was how to defend their position in face of the political 
upheavals sweeping through the Caucasus. 

On 27 May 1918, when the new Republic of Azerbaijan was 
founded on the territory north of the Araxes River and south-east of 
Transcaucasia, the adoption of the name 'Azerbaijan' caused consternation 
in Iran, especially among Azerbaijani intellectuals. Khiyabani 
and his fellow Democrats, in order to dissociate themselves from the 
Transcaucasians, decided to change the name of Iranian Azerbaijan to 
Azadistan (Land of Freedom). (34) By way of justifying this decision, 
they referred to the important 'heroic role' Azerbaijan had played in 
the struggle to establish the Constitution in Iran which, in their view, 
warranted adopting the name Azadistan. (35) 

From Territorial to Titular Nationalism 

The fall of the Musavatists in 1920s, which was a result of close collaboration 

between the Bolsheviks and the CUP leadership, caused 

considerable disillusion among the Azerbaijani pro-Ottoman intelligentsia. 

However profitable this cooperation was for the Bolsheviks, 

the old guard of the Ottoman Unionists in the region, by adopting 

different measures, were still striving to realize their old dream. As an 

intelligence British office remarked: 

It will be remembered that the unfortunate 'Musavat ' government 
of Baku was successfully overturned by the Communists mainly as 
a result of the assistance given by the numerous Turkish Unionists. 
The infiltration of Unionists in the Turkish Communist Party 
in Baku still continues; they thus seek to establish complete control 
in course of time, and to gain control of Georgia and Azerbaijan in 
order to connect them up with their schemes in Central Asia. . . . 
The Unionists 'plan therefore is to continue the alliance with 
Russia so long as it enables them to advance their own plans, 
which are being energetically pursued. (36) 

The final consolidation of Soviet power in the Caucasus, which was 
eventually realized by the subjugating of Georgia on March 1921, 
paved the way for a shift in diplomatic maneuvering by the newly 
bom Soviet administration. In February the Soviet- Iranian Treaty 
was concluded, and it was followed by the signing of a peace treaty 
with Turkey in March 1921. Having extended its southern border to 
the Araxes river, the Soviet regime adopted a restrained policy towards Iran, 
officially forbidding any nationalist claims on Iranian territory. 

The tragic outcome of Khiyabani's revolt, which was followed by 
the suppression of the uprisings in Khorasan and Gilan, left the 
Democrats in Iran in total disarray. A group of them, mainly from 
non- Azerbaijani background, were enthralled by pan-Islamism, as 
propagated by the late Ottomans as a means of winning over a non-Turkic 

people in the region. Another tendency within the Democrats 
found it difficult to subscribe to the regional movement launched by 
their party comrades. Subsequently, a new group of reform-minded 
intellectuals gradually emerged on the Iranian political scene. Their 
mode of understanding society was based on socio-political ideas of 
West European origin. Despite the diversity of their political views, 
what singled out them from the home-grown variety of educated or 
learned individuals was the model of society that they took for 
granted. The West European model presupposed a coherent, class-layered 
society, which by definition was organized around the distinctive 
concepts of nation and state. They were convinced that only a 
strong centrahzed government based in the capital would be capable 
of implementing reform throughout Iran, while preserving the 
nation's territorial integrity. Likewise they believed that modernization 
and modern state -building in Iran would require low cultural 
diversity and a high degree of ethnic homogeneity. Only when Iran 
fulfilled the preconditions for a nation-state as defined by them, when 
'empirically almost all the residents of a state identify with the one 
subjective idea of the nation, and that nation is virtually contiguous\(31) 
could they realistically cherish hopes of safeguarding Iranian territorial 

In the recently born state of Turkey, the Turk Ocagi activists strove 
to find a new home under the self-restrained Kemahst regime. In 
1923, the Turkish magazine Yeni Mecmu'a (the New Journal) reported 
on a conference about Azerbaijan, held by Turk Ocagi in Istanbul. 
During the conference, Roshani Barkin, an ex-member of Teshkilat-i 
Mahsusa and an eminent pan-Turkist, condemned the Iranian 
government for its oppressive and tyrannical policies towards the 
Azerbaijanis living in Iran. He called on all Azerbaijanis in Iran to 
unite with the new-bom Republic of Turkey. (38) 

In reply Iranshahr (Land of Iran), a journal published in Berlin, 

and the Tehran-based journal AyanJe/z (The Future) ran a series of 

articles denouncing pan-Turkism and became the pioneers of the 

newly launched titular nationalism in Iran. While Iranshahr attempted 

to provide historical underpinning, Ayandeh took on the task of 

propounding the necessary conditions for the 'unification' and ' Persianization" 

of all Iranians as one nation. (39( Advocating the elimination of 

regional differences in 'language, clothing, customs and suchlike', 

Ayandeh demanded 'national unity' based on the standardized, homogeneous 

and centrally sustained high culture of the titular ethnic 


Kurds, Lors, Qashwa'is, Arabs, Turks, Turkmens, etc., shall not 
differ from one another by wearing different clothes or speaking a 

different language. In my opinion, until national unity is achieved 
in Iran, with regard to customs, clothing, and so forth, the possibility 
of our political independence and geographical integrity being 
endangered will always remain.(40) 

Their insistence on raising the status of Persian above that of a lingua 
franca and cleansing its vocabulary of loan words, especially those 
from Turkish and Arabic, provided the newly constructed sentiment 
with a form of philological nationahsm. Later, philologists were to be 
inspired to create grotesque and far-fetched neologisms such as 'has 
nadanad-sikhakr , to replace ' mahramana-mostagim' (direct-confidential). 
Moreover, their campaign of purification naturally went beyond 
the linguistic field and pervaded the realm of Iranian history as well. 
By rewriting history, a 'pure Iran' with a long historical identity was 
created, an Iran purged of all 'foreign' and 'uncivilized elements' 
within its borders. Such an identity ultimately depended on negative 
stereotypes of non-Iranians. The Turks and later the Arabs, who were 
referred in nationalist discourse as the 'yellow and green hazards\(4l) 
served as the indispensable 'others' in the construction of the new 
Iranian identity. With the passage of time, the proponents of this 
form of revivalist nationalism became the founders of a trend in 
Iranian historiography known above all for its emphasis on continuity 
in Iranian culture and its concern to uphold the country's pre- Islamic 

Furthermore, by adopting the Western European model of modem 
nation- state-building under an absolutist ruler, the Iranian nationalists 
in their manifesto advocated bureaucratic efficiency, clear territorial 
demarcation, and a homogenized and territorially fixed population, 
who were to be taxed, conscripted into the army and administered in 
such a way as to be transformed into modern 'citizens'. When Reza 
Shah ascended the throne, he wholeheartedly endorsed all the 
demands voiced by these nationalists. Indeed, the blueprint for his 
'one country, one nation' project was already on his desk. 


The most important political development affecting the Middle East 
at the beginning of the twentieth century was the collapse of the 
Ottoman and the Russian empires. The idea of a greater homeland for 
all Turks was propagated by pan-Turkism, which was adopted almost 
at once as a main ideological pillar by the Committee of Union and 
Progress and somewhat later by other political caucuses in what 
remained of the Ottoman Empire. On the eve of World War I, pan-Turkist 
propaganda focused chiefly on the Turkic -speaking peoples of 

the southern Caucasus, in Iranian Azerbaijan and Turkistan in 
Central Asia, with the ultimate purpose of persuading them all to 
secede from the larger political entities to which they belonged and to 
join the new pan-Turkic homeland. Interestingly, it was this latter 
appeal to Iranian Azerbaijanis which, contrary to pan-Turkist intentions, 
caused a small group of Azerbaijani intellectuals to become the 
most vociferous advocates of Iran's territorial integrity and sovereignty. 
If in Europe 'romantic nationalism responded to the damage likely 
to be caused by modernism by providing a new and larger sense of 
belonging, an all-encompassing totality, which brought about new 
social ties, identity and meaning, and a new sense of history from 
one 's origin on to an illustrious future\(42) in Iran after the Constitutional 
movement romantic nationahsm was adopted by the Azerbaijani 
Democrats as a reaction to the irredentist policies threatening the 
country's territorial integrity. In their view, assuring territorial integrity 
was a necessary first step on the road to estabhshing the rule of 
law in society and a competent modern state which would safeguard 
collective as well as individual rights. It was within this context that 
their political loyalty outweighed their other ethnic or regional affinities. 
The failure of the Democrats in the arena of Iranian pohtics 
after the Constitutional movement and the start of modern state-building 
paved the way for the emergence of the titular ethnic group's 
cultural nationalism. Whereas the adoption of integrationist policies 
preserved Iran's geographic integrity and provided the majority of 
Iranians with a secure and firm national identity, the blatant ignoring 
of other demands of the Constitutional movement, such as the call for 
formation of society based on law and order, left the country still 
searching for a political identity. 


1 E. J. Hobshawm, Nation und Nationalism iinae I7S0: Frogfxsmme, Myth, 
/Sftj/i'fjf ((^mbi'Jdgc: (^ambi'idijc University Press, IVi'XI), p. UI2. 

2 K. Renner, Staat tiiid Naliofj, p. H9, quored by Hohsibawm, ibid., p. 101. 
.1 Ftir tilt' (ii^tiils of the uUimarum, sec A. Kasravi, TaiikShe Hijdali Saleh-e 

Aztifbay^an, W^ ctin (Tehran.: Amir Kabi]', l<J7fl), vol. 1, pp. 2.VS-4(). 
4 K. Ramajiiiic, Tfie Fofvi^n Policy of I lit ts (( Charlottesville: Univei'sity Prtss 

(>(■ \i]'srinia, ]%fi), pp. l(M-«. 
jj Rana/ajii, Tlie Foreign FoUcy of Iran^ p. I IS. 
f> S. A. /ifnliovsiii', Faii'TurkiifK and Islam in Russia (CJim bridge, MA: 

Hai'vard Univfrsitv I'l't'^i, 19f)()), pp. 127--H. 
7 R. Orbay, 'Hatii'alar', Yakinn Tarshimiz, cilt I {Istanbul: '['iirkpetml, 

l%.i), pp. \(y-l<-i. 
R Y. At^^uroglu, fd., Titiii Yd, !P2S (Istanbul: Yens Metba'a, 192Ji), p. .l^fi. 
9 Y. Alc^roplu, IJf Tarz-i Siydset {iWan: Mctba'a^i (Jadr, 1909),. pp. 11 — 


1(1 K. Lewis, The Emergence of Modem Turkey (London: CJsford University 
Press, 1^62), p. J4S. 

1 ] M. .^rai, Turkish Nationaiism in the Young Turk Ers (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 

1992), p. 20. 
12 Ibid, p. .M4. 
U Tiirk 'Alemi Tiirk Yurdtt Biriri Cilt 1127-L12S (Istanbul: Tanin 

Matba'jsj, 1.12S.'](n2), p. K>. 

14 'l]'an 'l"LirkkTi\ Tiirk Yurdtt Bijici tjlt 1.727-n2S (Istanbul: Tanin 
Matba'asi, MZS/l'^lZ), pp. lOA-11, 42S-:1Z, 5.^1-6, ft4S-56, 67IJ-72, 

15 Sec, lor ejiaiiiplc, ^diale, 17 January 1914. 

16 Sec, lor evaiiiplc, Achiq Soz, 2(1 August 1917. 

17 Achiq Soz, IS (ktobiT 1*)17. Among the founders of Tiij'k (3cagL was 
Abdullah ^a'iq, the yoiingef bi'otbci' of Yusuf Zia. For ^'usuf Zia, see 
note 29. 

IH Zc]ikovsky, Pan-Turkism and Isism in Rsasiti, p. 2()2. 

19 VU .171..'4.V^!i, 191 S. 

2(1 ^cft/^Joz, 17 January 19 IS. 


21 On tlic pj'Gcesfj of !ic]f -identification, stc Thoirias Hylland Lrikseh, 
Ethnicity and Nationaiism: Anthropoligiai! Pcnpectivei (London: Pluto 
Prewi, im?K pp. <>-li>. 

21 Mohainmad Khan 'J':irhiy:it wjs fhc foujider of the Deriirtcj'af Party's 
Haku Himmittce, ajid tlie diffL'tor of Ii'anian fitthhad scho()l in Baku. 
Otbc]' members: Mii'za Mahniud IClian Parvaj'fsh, Mir/a 'Abd'dllali 
'AbtloLah^TLidcli, Shaykh Biiqjr Shirai^j, A/hdar 'AliKadcli, Hosain 
Kliiii'iLit, I !(Wii^]i Malunu/adeh, Mir HosavJi Motiinavi, Miri^a 'Aliqoli 
(froni Ashtjabad, whi> later bte-aiim; tbe editor of tlit rewspapcr 
Asarbayjofi, Joz'-e laynnfiikJi-e Tnin), Mir Jafar Ja\^dj:adeh Pis-hava:'], Haji 
Mo'atlcm Ja'iiu'Kadt'h Kalklialj, MJr/a Aqa ^"alinadt'h, Sayftillali 
Ibi'ahijn/adch, 'Alj Akbar Oiku'j (f()untJLT of Iranian pJLtle, labourR 
executive committee). IJecause of liJs political actirities. Parvarish had to 
leave Batu in WUr, he wcjit illegally to Iran. Aftcj' the Rusisiian Revolu- 
tion ol' Februarj" 1917, the Democi^l Party began to operate legally. See 
S. jLi\Jd, [fan Sosyal Demokrtil (AdaSst) Finjasi Htiqqinda Khatarslarim 
(Tehj'an: I.,ithog]'iphy, lySO), pp. ^i-lO. The other Iranian societies and 
organizations in Baku included the 'Iran Independent pai'ty', pro- 
Ij'anian govcj'juncjit, Javid p. II. 'Sandiiq-e Ta'avon-e Madrisa-e 
I'ltehad-e Iraniyan-c Baku', Javid, p. 1.1. 'Jam'iyat-c .Vla'aj'if-cl Ij'an' (an 
Adalat party fi'ont), Javid p. 17. 'ijtLina'ivLiJi-IrqilabJyun fSosyal- 
Revolutioner). 'All Bayramov, i^as killed by Musaratistn duriiiff their 
reign, Javid, p. 19. Furthei'jnorc, the Ij'anians had two schools: Rttehad 
i]i tbe city centre and I'ainadon fin the Sahunchi district). In .March 
l<.>lli, (ollowjng the conflict between Alusaratists and tbe Baku 
Cloinmune, almost all Iranian societies were liquidated. Javid, pp. !4-lS. 

2.5 Ibid, |y 10. 

24 On tlie origin of reconsti'uctingf Iran's pre-lslamic history in the nation- 
alist discourse, see M. Tavaqoli-'J'arghi, '( Contested Mcinortcs: Nan'atix"? 
Structuj'e and Allegoj'ical Meanijig ol' Iran's pre-Tslamic Histoj'v', 
Imtiian SiuSes, vol. 29, nos. I-Z fliJ^d), pp. 14<)-I7.v 

2^ Azsifbayjan Joz'-s \iiyanfakk-e Imn, nos. 2 and .i, 2 and 6 Februai'v \'-)\'^. 

2(> I. (lershoni, 'Imaginings and Reiniaafining the Past: The Use oi' Histoj'y 
by Egyptian IN'ationalist Writers, 1919-1952', History (£ Memorv, voL 4, 
no. 2 (Vail -winter 1992), p. 7. 

27 T. Nipperdey, 'In Search ol' Identity: R.(Minanttc Nationalism, its Intel- 
lectual, Political and Social Background', in J. C. liade, cd., Rorymntic 
Niitiofjulism m Europe (Austi'alian National University, I9S3), p. 1 1. 

2K FO.>71/4.viS, VfM\. 

29 Y'usul' Zia Taiihuada was born in Qurchali in Gcorsfia in 1377. His father 
was a high-nijiking snulla in the Caucasus region. When Yusuf was a 
child his inother t(Kik him, together with his brothe:' 'Abdullah, later 
^\bdu]lah ^a'iq to Mashhad i:o study. Hiti teacher th-ere vva.s a dissident 

R!i(;ASTI\"£i HXi.St.I.F. RI-JKCTlNiJ THE CrPHER 83 

Anatolian 'I'ui'k ml led Zia, whose name YuHuf adopted. Aftei' finishing 
L'ltmcntarv (school in Mashliad, he w<mt to Kcrbela and hecame a in nil a. 
Returni]i£r to Baku in ]^^*), he started his (rai'ec]' iii the service oC Haj 
Zaynolahidin 'l\iqiov, at \\hosc ordci' he translated Hsslsf sl-Haqaiq into 
Azerbaijani. Thi'ce collies oS' the hoot was pi't'seiitcd to the Shah of Iraji, 
the .Anir ot" Afghanistan and the Ottajnaji Sultan. Yusul'Zia was asked 
to take the Sultan's copy to Istanbul, hi 1^07 he wcjit to Istanbul and 
joined the CUP. He served with the Ottoman forces in the I'JIZ IJalkan 
war and i^cci^ed the title oi Pasha. Me ^pent pei'iodii as an Ottoman 
secj'et agent in Irsinian Azerbaijan. Fttll oiling the Uolshcvik takeovci' he 
tenporai'ily joined the Bolsheviks and spent some time in Nakhjivaii. 
Later he joined Enver Pasha in Tiirkistan and bec-aine his deputy. 
Following the death of Fn^er, while attemptinsf to escape to Afghanistan 
he \\aii drowned in the Panj ri^er. 

.■Sd For a detailed study of Te^kHat-i MaJJsuM's activities in IniJi, the 
(Caucasus and ( j.>ntral Asia', in Tahaki, ed.. Hie Great War in Iran (St 
Antony's Publications, foi'thcoming). 

}] RJ S7I/«iiR, 19IS. 

iZ Kasj'avi, Tarikh-e Hejdah Saleh-e Azarhayjan^ vol. 3. 

.^.1 Ibid. 

.54 Kasi'a^i, Tcsrikh-e Hejdah Salcli-e Azarba^^an, \ii]. 1, p. S72. 

.VI .^zar, A. op. cit., p. 299. 

.5 ft F(> .17I.'A.i42, 1921. 

.17 J. J. Linz and A. Stepan, Frablemi of Democratic Tnitisition and Consoli' 
datsoys, Soiifheni Europe, South America, and poit^CommuHiit Europe 
(r.ondon: Johns lioiikins Ujii^ersity Pi'ess, W-Ht), p. Z.S. 

^H Tiirk Oeagjnda Konhraiis', Yem Mecmu'a, no. HI, Z August UJZ.i, pp. 

.■59 See, lor e^ajnple, Ayandeh, nos. 1 {1925), S {]92f>); Iranihahr, no. 2 
(192.'!). The ntaga/ine Iranshahr was hrst published in Berlin, in Jujie 
1922. The editor, Hosayn Kazemiadeh, maintained close contact with 
intellectuals in Europe who were involved with Iranian studies, and his 
inag'aKine was soon exerdsinc;' a powei'fu] influence in political and intcU 
kctual circles in Iran. Duringf the five years of [ratuhahr's ejtistence, 
forty-eight issues appeared and special attention was ol'ten paid to 
Azerbaijan. Indeed, thej'e wci'c nijie long articles devoted to the subject. 

4<l .^fshar, M., ^\gha/-nameh', Ayctndefi, no. 1 ]92i. 

41 Afsiiar, .VI., 'Khataj'-i '/:Ard\ Ayandeh, no. Z4 (1927^. 

4Z .Nijiperdey, 'I]i Search (tf Idejitify', p. Ir